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Review of Dr. Thomas Armitage's Baptist History
By Samuel H. Ford, 1888
     Of this work, six hundred and eighteen pages are filled to a very large extent with matter not strictly pertaining to Baptist history, before the American Baptists are reached. Fifty pages of what remains (as reserved for their history, associations, seminaries, colleges, missions, literature, etc.) are given to the Puritans and Roger Williams - rather as a discussion than a history.

     The conclusion is reached by Dr. Armitage that the society organized by Williams, in which he continued but four months, and which, on his withdrawal from it, either "dissolved" (Gallomer), or "crumbled to pieces" (Neal) - was a real Baptist church, and the first in America. [John] Comer's statement (A.D. 1726) that the Roger Williams church died out, and that the Newport church, which remains to this day, was the first on the continent, is not accepted by Dr. Armitage, though he leaves the whole matter uncertain and obscure.

     Dr. Armitage vindicates the baptism of Williams on the ground of necessity. But was there any necessity for his baptism under the circumstances. Williams was baptized by Holleman, and then he baptized his baptizer. Dr. Armitage gives no scriptural reason for the validity of such a baptism - by an unbaptized man. But he instances the opinions of Tertullian, of Ambrose, and also of Augustine (who held that infants must be baptized and partake of the Lord's Supper or be lost eternally), and also the authority of the Synod of Elvira. Surely, Baptists are not to be guided in their views of a divine ordinance by such authorities as these. But it is not a question of "lay baptism," as Dr. Armitage calls it. It is whether an unbaptized man, on the ground of necessity, is authorized by the New Testament to administer that ordinance. Of this phase of the question, however, Dr. Armitage says nothing.

     But, without entering farther upon this part of his history, and his conclusions, we hold it to be our duty to point out the marked omissions and partialities which abound.

     It is strange that in giving a history of the authors whose works have flung a light over Baptist history in America, that the name of John Dowling is entirely omitted - while Tumbull's almost unknown works are specially mentioned. Dowling's "History of Romanism" will be known and read when Dr. Armitage's History is forgotten. That book of nearly one thousand pages is to-day a standard work among all classes on a subject that so nearly concerns our interests as Americans, as well as Baptists. Thirty thousand copies of his great book have been sold. It is a monument to his industry and learning and together with his "Nights and Morning," his "Power of Illustration," his "Judson Offering," gives him a prominent place among the great men who have shed a luster on the Baptist people of these United States. But Dr. Dowling did not act with the "Bible Union." Can it be that this was the reason that he and his books are unnamed in a professed "complete" Baptist history, and this while "obscure men" are paraded so prominently in its pages?

     Dr. Dagg, one of the "lights" of the denomination - whom Dr. Cone considered the best theologian in the Baptist ranks, whose works on Theology, Moral Science and Discipline have filled a large place in our denominational literature - has a line and a half given to him (his name does not appear in the index), and his long and eminent life passed over with a mere nod.

     Isaac Taylor Hinton published the first work of significance on baptism in the United States - "The History of Baptism." It is still a standard work. He was a pioneer preacher in Chicago, and also in St. Louis, and died heroically in New Orleans of yellow fever. A grand man - brother of Howard Hinton, of London. Not a word is recorded of him, his noble life or his able works on Baptism and on Prophecy, while page after page is devoted to men unknown to the world and the churches.

     Dr. Armitage does give a record of the authors who have written on baptism. He says: "On baptism we have Dr. Burrage on the 'Act of Baptism,' Dr. Jesse B. Thomas on 'Breaking the Mould of Doctrine,' Dr. Tucker on the 'Place of Baptism in the Christian System.'" Is this all? Why make mention of them - as though they were all, while Pendleton, Hinton, Howell, Ford of Massachusetts, "Studies on Baptism," and numerous other standard treatises and men of power who have written upon this question, are passed by with no recognition. "On baptism we have." Does not this imply that there are no others - at least worthy of mention? Is it just to the memory of Richard Fuller, Ira Chase, Dr. Kipley, Dr. Dayton and many others - to the denomination?

     In the section devoted to the religious press, the same seeming partiality appears. One would expect that all be impartially mentioned or none. But why should the present Michigan Herald (which began as late as 1870, the former one having been merged into the Standard) together with its estimable editor, be given a large place, while the Biblical Recorder (three times its age), and its distinguished founder and editor, Thomas Meredith, who fought with dignity and power the fierce onsets of Alexander Campbell, and was universally recognized as one of the very first men among the Baptists of his day, why should this periodical be wholly ignored? The same may be said of the Central Baptist of St. Louis, the Herald of Texas, etc. - with far larger circulations and age, and consequent influence - never mentioned, while prominence is given to smaller and younger journals. Is this just in an impartial history! Either all should have been mentioned (as in Dr. Cook's Story of the Baptists) or all omitted. Discrimination is out of place in a work of this kind.

     These are but a few of the omissions and seeming partialities of this History. But these are small matters compared with what have been heretofore pointed out.
     S. H. F.


[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, Ford's Christian Repository & Home Circle, 1888, pp. 117-119. Document provided by Ben Stratton, Farmington, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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